In 2019, Mick Jagger underwent heart surgery on a heart valve. Amazingly, he was able to get back to his musical activities rather quickly after surgery. This is a result of his heart surgery being performed through a very minimally invasive technique. Mick Jagger’s heart surgery is known as ‘aortic valve replacement’. The aortic valve is the main valve blood goes through to leave the heart. In some people — as in the case of Mick Jagger — that valve can become tight over time, meaning that it does not open as well. This makes it more difficult for blood to flow through. This is known as aortic valve stenosis.
The tightening of the valve is often due to the buildup of calcium deposits on the valve over time. This increases the stress and strain on the heart, causing it to generate increased force to send blood through the tightened valve. This leads to symptoms of heart failure such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and inability to tolerate increased activity. Such symptoms likely led to Mick Jagger having heart surgery. As you can imagine, performing on stage is a strenuous activity, and this requires increased output from the heart. This is very difficult when you have a tight aortic valve.
Doctors diagnose aortic valve stenosis in several ways. Patients will often present with symptoms of tiredness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Some people may have shortness of breath when lying flat at night. Many people will just have decreased exercise ability. Some people will have symptoms such as chest pain or passing out. A doctor usually makes this diagnosis after placing a stethoscope on the chest and hearing a heart murmur. A test called an ultrasound scan (also known as an echocardiogram) is then performed to show the valve and how tight it is. A primary care doctor usually makes the diagnosis and will then refer the patient to a cardiologist.
The treatment of aortic valve stenosis is the replacement of the heart valve. For decades, aortic valve replacement surgery has involved a large incision on the front of the chest. The heart would have to be stopped and the patient placed on a heart-lung machine while the valve is replaced. Recently, incredible breakthroughs in technology have allowed the development of a procedure called ‘transcatheter aortic valve replacement’ (TAVR).
In this procedure, the valve is replaced through a small incision in the leg artery. The valve is advanced up to the position of the old heart valve and the new valve is placed inside. During this procedure, the heart is still beating and the patient is often still awake with a light sedative. This is now being performed in thousands of patients and is becoming the new standard of aortic valve surgery for many patients. This has revolutionized the field. Mick Jagger had TAVR as his heart surgery.
In the case of Mick Jagger’s heart surgery and TAVR, he would likely have been able to get up the same day of the procedure and walk around due to the minimally invasive incision. Many patients go home 1-2 days after their procedure. Often, they can resume normal activities within the first week and even more strenuous activities the week after that. Unlike open-heart surgery, where it may take several months to regain full activity, TAVR allows recovery to happen much more quickly. For this reason, Mick Jagger was able to resume training so soon after the procedure.
What would one expect in a procedure such as Mick Jagger’s heart surgery? Patients are usually admitted on the same day as the procedure. They have had the work done beforehand to show the tight valve and determine how the valve should be fixed. Most often, this is through the artery in the leg, specifically in the groin area. Most patients nowadays will stay awake during the procedures and be administered a sedative to keep them comfortable. A local anesthetic is given in the leg at the site of a small incision and where the tube is passed up to the heart. Through the tube, a new valve is placed up through the heart. The procedure itself may only take about 20 to 30 minutes once the prep work is finished.
After this, the small incision in the groin will be closed, and the patient will be free to go back to the room. Patients undergoing TAVR can get up after about four to six hours of lying down. The reason they have to lie down is to protect the incision. After that, they can get up, and early walking and movement are encouraged. Patients often go home the next day. They will usually follow up with their cardiologist in one week, and after one month, they will just visit for routine checkups and to look at the valve and make sure there are no issues.
Techniques such as the one used in Mick Jagger’s heart surgery are known as ‘percutaneous techniques,’ meaning they are made without surgical incisions. Rather, they are accomplished by using small tubes passed through the arteries of the body. Many heart procedures — particularly for higher risk or older patients — are moving towards percutaneous techniques or have percutaneous options available. It is now widely believed that this is the future of heart surgery due to results improving continuously and the ease and shortness of recovery time for patients. These are some of the most incredible advancements in medical technology, and as seen in the case of Mick Jagger’s heart surgery, it can yield incredible results for patients.